Review: Oath Bound (Unbound #3) by Rachel Vincent
The third (and supposedly, final) installment in Rachel Vincent's Unbound series, Oath Bound was one of my most anticipated novels of the year. The unusual, mob-style world and distinctive, yet not overwhelming, paranormal elements have made this series one I've enjoyed immensely, and recommend often.
Fortunately, Oath Bound met my expectations and while I didn't love it as much as the second book in the series, Shadow Bound, it equalled the quality of the gripping first novel, Blood Bound. However, for an alleged final book in a series, I was definitely left feeling that there was quite a bit more needed in order for the series to achieve closure (though as with the previous books, the story itself comes to a satisfying ending).
Note: I have made every attempt to not spoil either of the two previous books in this series. While this novel would be best read after reading Blood Bound and Shadow Bound, it could be read as a standalone.
Here's quick primer on the Unbound world: The best comparison I can make is to Holly Black's Curse Workers series (which I also highly recommend). Some people are Skilled, and are able to utilize their Skills for a specific purpose, such as tracking people with just a name, teleporting via dark spaces, jamming tracking skills, binding contracts in a way that they're unbreakable or seeing future events. Like in the Curse Workers series, these talents are often commandeered by crime families, whose organizations exploit the Skilled for the benefit of their criminal enterprises. These organizations are ruthless, and the particular city these novels take place in are ruled by two rival, ruthless syndicates: Tower and Cavazos.
The Unbound series explores the theme of free will quite extensively, as that's the most valuable commodity in this world.
Each of the books in the Unbound series are told from two first-person points-of-view. In Oath Bound, one of those points-of-view is Kris, the brother of Kori, who was a narrator in Shadow Bound, and Kenley, an important secondary character in both this novel and the previous installment. The other narrator is a new introduction, Sera, who's the secret daughter of Jake Tower, former leader of one of the Tower syndicates.
The two collide when Sera demands that Julia Tower (Jake Tower's sister) help her avenge a family tragedy and is snatched by Kris, who it appears has snatched Sera from the Tower compound in hopes of using her as a bargaining chip in exchange for his sister Kenley. (Mild spoiler: no this isn't a kidnapping--I wouldn't recommend this book if it were, because that particular scenario disturbs the hell out of me.) The two hole up in a house far outside of the city, which serves as a homebase for the ragtag sort of resistance that's bent on taking down the syndicates. Lots of familiar faces are living at or in and out of this place: Van, Liv, Cam, Kori, Ian and the rest of the crew all play roles in this story and make appearances in the house, and some of the story-lines established in the previous novels get a bit of continuation (particularly Kori's PTSD).
On the surface, Kris is appears to be the most "normal" of all of the narrators in this series.
Unsurprising to anyone who's read Rachel's novels, however, he's tormented by his past, particularly in terms of his former off-more-than-on relationship with Noelle, who grew up with Kris, Kori, Liv and several of the other characters. Yet at the same time, unlike many of the other characters in this dark urban fantasy series, he's maintained a level of humor and normality that added something to the character landscape (is the a thing?) of the Unbound world. He's also a bit of a well-intended dumbass, which I was surprised I enjoyed as much as I did.
I liked that about her. I liked how laid back she was, when she wasn’t trying to stab me.
Sera, on the other hand, on some, is a character we've seen before in the Unbound world. She's traumatized as a result of something terrible she and her loved ones experienced in this extremely brutal world. She's defensive, and hiding a lot of secrets. I found her to be quite sympathetic, but she didn't linger with me the way Kori did in Shadow Bound, and it's hard not to compare these books to each other.
While this wasn't my favorite coupling in this trio of novels, their growing trust and respect for one another made a satisfying romance, though not a particularly memorable one.
The one angle of the romance that lingered, however, was one that rarely works for me and surprisingly did in Oath Bound, which is Kris' understanding that the relationship he had with Elle when he was young wasn't one that was forever, that there was an agenda, and that he can have something real with Sera. So often the "I never knew love before I met you" trope makes me angry, because it feels as if it invalidates the previously relationship, but in this story it makes absolute sense in the context of the plot's unfolding.
I stood there for a minute, thinking about Sera, and how much we still didn't know about her. About how badly I wanted her to trust me. How badly I wanted her to trust me. But in the two days since we'd met, I'd nearly gotten her killed several times--it was a mirable she didn't run when she saw me coming.
But then, I had yet to see her run from anything.
With that said, unlike in Shadow Bound, which left Ian and Kori at a place where they could move forward, but not without lingering problems they could face together, Sera and Kris' issues felt a bit too tidily resolved for this series previously characterized by gray areas. (Apologies for the vagueness--if you'd like to know more details, which are a bit spoilery, click here.) It sounds awful, but in this world, everyone suffers and not everyone's problems are solved. I know there are a lot of reviews of the previous two novels discussion how "dark" the series is, so this may be something that only bothers me.
Finally, I'm not convinced Oath Bound is the end of the Unbound series.
The author says that this is a planned trilogy, but I will be shocked (and a rather irked) if the series does not continue. While each book's story has clear resolution and is self-contained, this trilogy leaves a ton of questions unanswered and only half of the big picture is resolved. Folks who've read Blood Bound will frustrated that the Big Thing at the end of that first book remain unresolved. I've scoured the ends of the internet for evidence that the series is continuing, but all I've discovered is that Rachel Vincent is working on an adult novel for Mira, the publisher of the Unbound series, which isn't really evidence in one direction or another. Vincent isn't know for tying her stories up with neat little bows (which is one of the reasons I like her books), but this series simply feels unfinished at this point.
I realize this review sounds cranky--and it's unintentionally so. I very much enjoyed this installment of a series that stands out in a sea of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Much of this is because Vincent so skillfully blends the two genres, never sacrificing action and world-building for the romance and never spending so much time on the grittiness that the romance element feel like an afterthought. It's nicely balanced.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, each of these books can be read as a standalone--the narrators switch, and the backstory is recapped enough so you'll know what's going on if you start with Oath Bound. However, I'd recommend beginning with Blood Bound to really understand to full complexity of the series. These books are definitely ones that I suggest to folks who normally shy away from paranormal-centric novels and romance as well, so if you don't normally enjoy either of those elements, so if you're looking to try something outside your usual wheelhouse, the Unbound series is a worthy candidate.